Best Place for a Park 2008 | L'Hermitage | Sports & Recreation | South Florida

At the extreme eastern extremity of Oakland Park Boulevard, the street terminates on the water with a roundabout surrounded on one side by an attractive stand of trees and on the other by an overpriced monstrosity of a condominium complex. Though not exactly an eyesore, the decadent L'Hermitage is still a building where no building should be. If the huge, Borg-ish edifices all along this part of the Atlantic hadn't shrunk the beach to its current 20-something-foot state of abject puniness, the flora that could thrive here would open onto the most idyllic piece of shoreline in Fort Lauderdale. As it is, the beach looks hopelessly forlorn; an ever-shrinking sandbar that gets no help from either the ocean or this unnecessarily baroque concrete behemoth. The inconvenient truth is that the whole ugly business will be underwater soon enough. But as consolations go, that one's bittersweet at best.

Whenever you hit the courts at Central Park in Plantation, you can expect a showdown on the main courts. The competition at this West Broward park is fierce — folks that come out take their basketball seriously. It's not exactly the Rucker in Harlem, but dunks, olly-oops, and high-flying theatrics happen here all the time, and if you find yourself on the center court playing at night under the lights, the ante is upped considerably. Starting around 5:30, the after-work crowd begins to show up and mix in with area teenagers. By 6:30, the courts swell as the skilled big boys appear and fast-paced ball begins, with plenty of smack talk and highlight-reel style action. It's just as fun to watch these games as it is to play. Participants can expect to get a little banged up, but as long as you're smart, it should be an essentially injury-free experience.

In the halcyon 1980s, our parents would ditch us kids after eating at a Chinese restaurant by saying, "Whoops! Locked our keys in the car!" Whereupon they would send us on a mission to walk two miles home, break in the window to fetch a spare set of keys, and walk back. This allowed them a full child-free hour or two of sipping mai-tais at the bar. Although this dirty trick may still come in handy, it would behoove you to remember that today's savvy kids know how to file child abuse complaints on the Internet. Hence, our parents' other maneuver: dropping us off at the Rapids Water Park — then a simple manmade hill with four yellow water chutes that dumped into a pool at the bottom. This glorified Slip 'n' Slide, was to us a perfect universe, fueled by adrenaline and ruled by an army of 18-year-old lifeguards. Now 30 years old, the Rapids has morphed into a serious aqua playground, with 29 water slides, including Big Thunder (sit in a four-person tube and drop into a giant funnel, much like being flushed down a toilet bowl) and Black Thunder (same concept, but in the dark). True, the $31.95 admission price sure isn't chump change, but Disney water parks cost $71 these days and babysitters are basically miniature extortionists. Besides, this way, your kids need not be "ditched" — they will joyously abandon you to frolic in the wave pool, cross a river on "ice floes," and take a seven-story drop on the Pirate's Plunge. Oh — did you actually want your kids to come back? Good luck with that!

All you hear is the constant barrage of gunfire. All you see is insurgents. Their faces are covered with handkerchiefs; their hands clutch black rifles; ammo is stashed on their belts. Reball Madness looks a lot like Iraq... if Iraq featured a snack bar that sold Hot Pockets. Inside this massive warehouse, opposing teams shoot reballs — like paintballs that don't break and splatter — at each other while trying to avoid gunfire by sliding on squishy green turf and hiding behind inflatable pyramids. Referees keep an eye out for fairness and safety, so you get all the adrenaline-pumping excitement of battle without any of the pesky death and destruction. Awesome! Reball is perhaps most challenging during a game of Battle Ball, when there's a mission that needs to be accomplished — say, one team has to move "the President" to safety. For this, organizers will set up gunner forts and wooden barricades and even unleash fog in the room. (I know! We said it was awesome!) Although reball, at $45 for a four-hour session, works out to be cheaper than paintball, a word to the uninitiated: getting hit hurts just as much!

There are poker rooms all over South Florida where wannabes can grind out flops, rivers, and turns as the hold 'em craze spreads to all walks of life. But one casino beats the others like Johnny Chan beats the donkeys who believe a chip and a chair are all they need to be the next World Series champ. Pompano Park is just a nice place to sit and gamble all day. It has comforting wooden walls that make it seem more like a captain's lounge than a poker room, large televisions playing every sport on earth, and top-shelf drinks available from a bar that could stand on its own merits. The food is good, the dealers and most players are friendly, and there are attractive young ladies in red jerseys who will massage your back for luck.

Think fast: Who was the only Apostle to die a natural death? Antifreeze often contains what common food item? Which popular facial fashion accessory in the 18th century was made out of mouse hair? If you answered John, honey, and false eyebrows, in that order, you could probably clean up at "pub quiz," a quaint British tradition that involves booze and general knowledge questions and perhaps a round of "name that tune." Every third Sunday of each month, shortly after 7:30 p.m., the tiny King's Head Pub in Sunrise hosts a brilliant pub quiz. A saucy Brit named Neil reads the questions, and he's even kind enough to repeat them. Teams are limited to five people (and text messaging for help is NOT allowed). There's space for about a dozen teams. Grab your favorite science geek, newshound, sports addict, and pop culture maven and go early to stake out a spot. Winners get a $100 tab good for drinks or food.

It wasn't just a bad year for the Miami Dolphins, it was the worst in the storied franchise's history. Although every pro sports team in South Florida had a bad year (all but the Panthers finished dead last), no team was as pathetic as the lowly Fins at 1-15 with their only win coming at home in overtime against the almost-as-bad Baltimore Ravens. The two highest-profile rookies, quarterback John Beck and wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., had more blooper-reel moments than breakthroughs, but the draft class of 2007 was not a complete waste. Center Samson Satele, from the University of Hawaii, was one of the team's silent stars. He became the first rookie in team history to start every game at center, and before running back Ronnie Brown went out for the year with a knee injury, the team was having some success running behind Satele's flowing dark locks. The Dolphins may not make a huge turnaround this year — they still have to play the Patriots twice every season — but at least they have a solid center to build around. Now if only he had someone to snap the ball to.

For fans of marksmanship, the right gun range is a necessity. We've all been through this: You're new to town, or to firearms, so you pop into a local range. What you expect to find is a friendly dude who wants to take your cash in exchange for lane rental. What you actually find is painfully snarky, buy-a-gun-here-or-we-don't-care-about-you attitude. Well, those days are over. For purists, stepping foot into a corporate range feels wrong. At first. But take a private lesson at the Bass Pro Shop's Redhead Range and you'll be a changed soul. In addition to being refreshingly friendly, their shooting staff is outsourced, so they don't care if you buy a gun on location or not. They just want to correct everything from your breathing to your posture by the time you leave. Also, as long as you bring factory-issue ammo (no re-loaded or steel core/steel case) you don't have to purchase your bullets on site. (Plus it's really fun to use their digital target distance devices — you feel terribly high tech.) Maybe best of all, Bass wasn't grandfathered in under old codes like most neighborhood ranges in Florida, so they have a top notch ventilation system; you'll breath easier knowing that lead and other ammo byproducts stay at the range when you leave. And if you're not in the mood for your pistol or rifle — bring your own weapon, there are no rentals — you can try your luck at archery in the fully automated bow and arrow room. Competitive lane pricing ($10) and inexpensive eye/ear protection ($1, or bring your own) top off this joint's credentials; what keeps us going back is the friendly staff.

Amidst all the embarrassment and frustration that Dolphins fans felt in 2007, no individual was a bigger letdown than Joey Porter. He came to town with a mean snarl and a Super Bowl ring that he won with the Steelers. It cost the Dolphins $32 million to snag the loud-talking linebacker after Pittsburgh cut him, but it sounded great in theory: bring in a dominant outside force to line up opposite Defensive Player of the Year Jason Taylor. Well, lots of things are good in theory and end with good people getting ripped off; see Reaganomics. Porter was like that, and the Dolphins defense ended up abhorrent despite the work of Taylor. And Porter was involved in a few off-the-field controversies: he jumped a Bengals lineman at a blackjack table in Las Vegas, he passed out offensive slurs like Christmas cards, and his pit bulls got loose and killed a horse. Still, Miami fans could have lived with all that if he'd just helped the team win.

He's a legend — and a loser. Subtract the championship year, when he took over the Heat from Stan Van Gundy, and Pat Riley has had an atrocious decade. Subtract Dwyane Wade's heroics in 2006 and Riley hasn't won a playoff series in this century. He's coached some of the best players the world has seen, yet he makes amateurish personnel decisions (Ricky Davis? Jason Williams? Are you kidding?). With all his early success with the Lakers, Riley earned the right to relax, yet he seemed to get tenser each season. And with good reason: This year he managed to put one of the worst teams in league history on the floor. It was so bad that he fired himself (for the second time). Yet even as he showed his flaws as a coach, he earned our respect. Night after night he was courtside coaching his terrible team like the playoffs were at stake. He went down with the sinking ship. And for that we give a tip of the hat to a man we'll never quite understand.

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